Monday, October 19, 2009
I just finished reading "The Shape of Content" by Ben Shahn (Harvard University Press, 1985) and am very impressed with his keen analysis of the many aspects of art and being an artist. I heartily recommend this book and plan to write about it in future blogs. Today, I'm interested in Shahn's comments about the artist as a nonconformist. He states that "to create anything of worth in any field, it requires nonconformity - or want of satisfaction with things the way they are." He cites many examples of this - for instance, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Charta, Martin Luther's theses, etc. wouldn't exist if nonconformists hadn't brought them to life. Shahn identifies the major motivators for conformity in the arts as: "1) a large number of artists adopt the view of one artist who is deemed outstanding , 2) artists who cater to the popular market, 3) trends and yearnings of artists to be in the forefront of things, and 4) by doctrine and tribunal." Aren't we all encouraged to conform by jurors of major exhibitions, gallery owners, museum curators, and art critics? They are the gatekeepers at the transition point between art stored in our studios and art displayed for public consumption. Thank goodness for the world wide web! At least we can bypass the gatekeepers at one level. Finally, Shahn writes that "conformity is the retreat from controversiality." Now, there's something to think about!